I was thrilled one day when my friend Allen, a Senior at the time, asked me to go to the prom with him. But there was an issue with getting a prom dress. I didn’t come from a ton of money, so the idea of spending between $100-$250 on a dress you would never wear again was ridiculous. But my aunt was the queen of savings and a great seamstress, so we figured we could just find a discount gown and she would “make it work.”
I probably tried on about 500 fuchsia-sequin encrusted-lace-imbibed dresses before I found “The Black Dress.” The dress actually reached to my ankles (which was a difficult feat, being 5’11”) and had amazing rhinestone spaghetti straps. And it was on clearance $19.95. I had struck gold!
Somehow, my aunt convinced me to buy it a few sizes too big because I was “still growing,” and I had six months before the prom. She assured me that she would alter the dress on the night before the prom so I could have a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, my aunt sewed couch cushions, not dresses, and business had been so busy that she didn’t have time to deal with the gown. Before we knew it, the prom was upon us, and my dress was still not altered. I tried it on and I was literally hanging out of the thing. But my cousin Irina promised we could make it work!
“You know, all the stars just glue themselves into their dresses before their award shows?” she claimed.
“Really?” I asked. This sounded like a really good idea.
I am a moron.
The night of the prom, my cousin attempted to crazy glue my dress to my bosom to make sure that my boobs didn’t fall out. She had barely touched the glue to my chest when I felt incredible pain. The glue gave me a massive red chemical burn and failed to hold the dress on me. To make matters worse, the crazy glue left a huge white stain on the front of the dress.
I freaked out, and Nagymama didn’t notice – she was more worried about me eating dinner, which consisted of a huge bowl of “letcho.” “Letcho”, is a dish made of various sewed peppers, tomatoes and rice. Supposedly, it is really, really good. But Nagymama always cooked it for HOURS, until it was completely falling apart and stuck up the house. She also never used spices, which is the whole POINT of being Hungarian, if you ask me!
“My dress doesn’t fit! My life is over!” I wailed.
“No problem!” my aunt said. “We’ll fix it.”
There is no weirder sensation than having your cousin curl your hair, while your aunt colors the center of your chest with a Sharpie marker, your mom applies foundation to your chemical burned boob, and your Nagymama spoons mounds of letcho into your mouth.
“Nagymama, you’re going to ruin her lipstick!” my cousin screamed.
“She needs to eat! And you’re making her look like a whore!” Nagymama said.
“You’re gonna to poke her eye out with dat eyeliner!” my mom cried.
“Stephie, you should really get a better pushup bra next time,” my aunt suggested.
Did I mention that this room was only large enough to hold a bed, a television and perhaps two people? Not an entire family full of women with hot curling irons and various phobias.
So, finally, my cousin held up a mirror. And I cried.
My hair was “crimped” not curled, which might have been great in the 80’s, but not 1999. My eyeliner looked more like raccoon makeup than “Sexy and Smoky.” The foundation barely covered the painful chemical burn and I had a big hard black shiny spot in the center of my dress. And the fabulous rhinestones had started to fall out of the spaghetti straps.
It was at that exact moment Allen arrived at the door.
“ONE MORE MINUTE PLEASE!” I struggled to fix myself as best I could to avoid exposing my naive date to my family under all this stress.
My grandma immediately cornered him and tried to make him sit at our sticky kitchen table. She already had a bowl of letcho waiting for him. He politely declined and then informed us that the limo was waiting outside.
Just as I was about to panic, he said, “Here, I got you this,” he said. He put a beautiful corsage of white roses, covered in flecks of glitter on my wrist.
I smiled. For a moment, I felt pretty. And then my cousin said, “Where’s the boutonniere?”
I was confused. “What’s a boutonniere?” I asked. I looked at Allen and he shrugged.
In the distance, I hear a microwave beep but thought nothing of it.
My cousin was exasperated. “You moron! You’re supposed to buy your date a flower that matches your corsage so people know you are together!”
I had never been to the prom before or witnessed anyone else’s prom-goings, so I had no idea that this was a custom. My cheeks turned bright red.
“No problem,” my aunt said. “Ve’ll improvise.” She pulled the corsage off my wrist, grabbed a kitchen knife, and started hacking it to pieces.
Meanwhile, Nagymama walked over to my date with a glass of orange juice. “Nice boy” as she patted him on the back. Problem is, when you’re about 4 feet tall, if you want to pat someone on the back, your hand usually lands on their ass. My date got a weird look on his face.
“MOM! NAGYMAMA IS TOUCHING ALLEN INAPPROPRIATELY!”
He looked over at me. “No, it’s okay, she’s fine…but I really can’t finish this….drink. I don’t want to offend her.”
I realized that she had microwaved the orange juice she had given him. She was always afraid that people would catch a cold, so she frequently warmed up beverages in the microwave – nothing was ever hot, but everything I drank growing up was usually “piss warm.”
“Oh, god, forget it, we’re leaving.”
I threw the drink in the sink, grabbed Allen’s hand, and ran out the door with my aunt chased after us. “Vait, vait! Dah flowers!”
My aunt grabbed my date and struggled to pin the hacked apart corsage bits onto his lapel. I pulled the tattered remnants of the corsage back on my wrist and started heading towards this gate.
My mom stopped us. “Vait! Von last ting! Let me get a picture of the happy couple!”
If I ever find this picture, I am going to burn the damned thing.